Science & Technology

Using the social media responsibly

The various social media networking sites undoubtedly, constitute a significant feature of the fastest growing area of the global information and communication technologies (ICTs) in modern times. Examples of such most visited social media networking platforms include Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin and MySpace among several others.

These platforms are said to have significantly enhanced the much-needed transformation of lives and businesses through fast and effective communication across the globe. They have also enabled millions of people to record substantial breakthroughs in important development facets of human endeavour, aside from accelerating procedures and processes of getting things done more than ever before.

On a global scale, such critical areas of human development in which a responsible use of social media technologies has made marked improvement in the lives and businesses by estimated two billion Internet users on the planet include education, healthcare, government services, and so forth.

Many celebrities, politicians, intellectuals, professionals and businesses adopt the social media platforms to share useful information and build enduring relationships, though the number of Africans connected to the Internet is still reported to be comparatively low due to limited penetration of broadband technologies for Internet connection.

Interestingly, with estimated 400 million mobile phone subscribers, the African market is reportedly one of the highest in the world. In other words, with the 100 million Internet users listed in 2010, social media have enabled Africans to share information more easily and lead to “new attitudes and new practices”, perhaps both positive and negative.

Predominantly by virtue of their mobile phones, studies have shown that when Africans go online, “they join and spend much of their time on social media sites.” One of such popular websites is Facebook. This social networking site is currently adjudged the leading global social network with over 500 million subscribers and most visited website in most African countries.

Still, there is an imperative need by many Net users to guard against certain growing but negative trends and effects as regards some identified irresponsible use of the social media technologies in sharing information, building social relationships and businesses. Of recent, negative consequences of certain sloppy utilisation of these networking sites by incautious users are posing a disturbing challenge.

In a piece on things people should never share on social media networks, Leigh Goessl, a new media professional, for instance, warns users thus: “Being the most popular social network on the Internet, and one of the most frequently visited sites on the Web, Facebook has a lot of alluring and compelling reasons to visit the site… there are some distinctive drawbacks as well.

According to him, one of the disadvantages is perhaps the Facebook design itself. “The massive network of over 500 million members has a ‘small town’ feel, which means people often may forget that the entire Facebook community or, depending on privacy settings, the web population could be reading somewhat sloppy, lackadaisical posts on users’ ‘walls’,” he adds.

In terms of building social relationships, there was a recent careless post by a supposed “female friend” of a happily married man, whose organisation, incidentally one of Nigeria’s indigenous manufacturing conglomerates, has just promoted him.

Instead of congratulating him on his newest promotion and wish him well on the new assignment, the lady’s laid-back post on the man’s Facebook ‘wall’ had read in Pidgin: “No wonder u know dey run after me again; u done become big man. Just remember where we dey oooo and no forget where u are coming from oooooo. You know now?” This message, apparently meant for “her friend”, was discovered to have been read by millions of other Facebookers across the globe, and is apparently causing unwarranted disquiet in the man’s family now.

Perhaps because of ignorance, many users of these tools, though educated cannot distinguish between a private message and sharing a thought on issues or causes with others in the open access area called ‘wall’. A number of workers in some organisations have also received queries and others got sacked as a result of unrestrained use of their employers’ time on exploring these networking tools.

Yet, on the impact of unbridled use of the social media platforms cum video games on the quality of education among university undergraduates and other institutions of higher learning, Prof. Uche Okeke, Director-General, Institute of African Studies, in a remark at a conference in the university town of Nsukka, noted a striking “paradigm shift” in the nation’s value system lately.

Okeke had noted that students no longer exposed themselves to intellectual activities such as debates, workshops, symposium, quiz and research which should enhance their development. According to her, with the advent of Internet-enabled gadgets now, “students devote greater chunk of their time to Facebook, Yahoo-Yahoo (Nigeria’s parlance for online fraud), Twitter and video games, instead of academic research and study.”

Prof. Okeke, in her comment, particularly condemned the business of “Yahoo-Yahoo guys” describing them as economic saboteurs, who “devise all tricks to defraud companies and foreign investors” and discourage others from coming into the country.

Social sites’ users should carefully scrutinise the kind of information they share with others, particularly in connection with home addresses, absences from the home, social security numbers, and content of their posts or messages, which at times may seem harmless but potentially damaging to excellent human relationships.

Students who devote a greater chunk of their time to exploring social media networks at the expense of their academic advancement must realise that “whatever is bread in the bone will definitely come out in the flesh.” One cannot give what one does not have in terms of requisite knowledge and skills.

Young learners engrossed in utilising social media need to adjust their use of these tools. They need not chat away their future on mostly “sweet nonsense”, oftentimes with strangers, aside from sending deceptive overtures and messages to business organisations and prospective investors in this economy.

Employees should also be wary of time-consuming and needless distraction, identity theft and spam (unwanted mails) usually generated by their extreme application of social media networking sites during working hours. This inattentive attitude by some personnel in Internet-connected workplaces has cost numerous people their jobs as a result of low productivity and inattention to critical official matters.

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